It’s the evening before BravoCon 2022, and anticipation and excitement are in the air. I’m at a party at the Freehand hotel in New York City, and the “Real Housewives”-inspired cocktail menu has drinks like “The Dorit” and “Reasonably Shady.” Napkins displayed all over the room don former housewife Sonja Morgan’s famous tagline: “I have a taste for luxury, and luxury has a taste for me.” A DJ is playing “Housewives” hits like “Feeling Jovani” and several people are taking photos with cutouts of housewives on sticks.
This party is a little different from the other BravoCon pre-parties, though. This one is all about politics.
“There are a lot of parallels between ‘Real Housewives’ and politics — they’re mean, there’s drama, betrayals, alliances,” one attendee tells me.
Progressives at the Working Families Party are using this party to launch their newest initiative: The Real Housewives of Politics. The goal is a multipronged approach to organize the “Real Housewives” fan base through social media, live events and watch parties.
“We aren’t going to organize every ‘Housewives’ fan, but people come from all walks of life and there’s a subsection of fans who wanna get political, wanna get active,” said Nelini Stamp, the originator of the idea and WFP’s director of strategy and partnerships. “We want people to organize on the basic level, to get more engaged, to go vote, and to build community in the ‘Housewives’ fandom.”
One of the team’s biggest endeavors is building a following on the @rhopol Instagram page, where freelance content creators produce memes and reels that connect “Real Housewives” drama with politics, Election Day reminders and other current events.
They’ve also built connections with Bravo content creators specifically who’ve promoted the page to their followers. Popular Bravo world meme account @BravoHistorian, which has nearly 200,000 followers, helped give away tickets to the launch party ahead of BravoCon.
“Most people who watch Bravo are women or people who identify as LGBTQ+ and to see a bunch of progressive Bravo lovers come together and support is what we need right now because things are rough,” Samantha Bush, the woman behind the @BravoHistorian account, said at the event.
Bush isn’t any stranger to “Housewives” getting political. She infamously was attacked by conservative former housewife Kelly Dodd after Bush called out one of Dodd’s friends using the “OK” sign, which has become a white power symbol, in a video.
“I think people are really scared to speak out sometimes, especially people who run a Bravo meme account because people will push back and be like, ‘I just come here for “Housewives,”’ but I’ve always been vocal. ... I’m not not going to speak up,” Bush said.
“The Real Housewives” wasn’t always political, but that changed in 2016 with the election of President Donald Trump. The ninth season of “The Real Housewives of New York City” took a political turn and was filmed during the 2016 election cycle, leading to frank political conversations among the ladies. Host Andy Cohen even put each housewife on the spot at that season’s reunion and asked whom they had voted for.
Bravo was forced to reckon with the lack of diversity in its franchises in 2020. The network added more women of color to casts, but these women are often the only nonwhite person in their franchise and forced to take on the burden of educating audiences and cast members on issues of race.
Bravo fired “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” newbie Jennie Nguyen early this year after racist posts on her Facebook page surfaced, and while the network released a statement, it avoided having any conversation or acknowledgment play out on screen. After “RHONY” star Ramona Singer’s horrific behavior at a Black Shabbat party, the network canceled the Season 13 reunion and rebooted the show.
“I think [Bravo] should toe the line a bit more when it comes to ‘Real Housewives’ and politics, because they’re mimicking real life,” Bush said. “It’s a missed opportunity, and that’s why I’m so glad there is this event tonight because it creates a safe space where you do integrate politics and ‘Real Housewives’ because politics is integrated in everything. Even if you think it’s not, it is.”
Stamp says the Working Families Party decided to tap in to pop culture a few years ago, but this is the first time it’s done fandom organizing.
It’s not the first time a fandom has organized for political change, though. Most notably, K-pop fans and young TikTokers reserved masses of free tickets to a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that they had no intention of attending. Harry Potter fans started nonprofit Fandom Forward in 2005, formerly known as the Harry Potter Alliance, as a gateway for activism and to get fans more politically involved.
“We’ve done pop culture and we’ve done organizing of artists and creatives, but I think the third piece we’ve always wanted was getting into fandoms,” Stamp said. “But it took us two years to build the team and focus on which fandom we wanted to choose and ‘The Real Housewives’ just made sense.”
Right-wing extremists are increasingly using the internet and social media to radicalize people, and there is an entire network of conservative teens and young men who are paid to create and promote right-wing memes that reach millions.
“There is online organizing that has been done on the left, but a lot of it has been spur of the moment and organic,” Stamp said. “There hasn’t been an investment like there has been on the right of ‘we’ve really gotta prioritize this.’”
Toward the end of the launch party, organizers rolled out a gorgeous, giant cake with an apple, peach and orange on top and cherry blossoms along the side. Stamp asked the crowd, “What day are we voting?” The room was silent before Stamp asked again. It wasn’t long before the entire room was chanting: “November 8!”